The Night Listener directed by Patrick Stettner, written by Stettner, Armistead Maupin and Terry Anderson, with Robin Williams, Toni Collette and Rory Culkin. A Miramax/Odeon Films release. Opens Friday (August 4). For venues and times, see Movies, page 91. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
I sometimes think that Robin Williams makes films like The Night Listener as penance for movies like RV. It's Williams in his serious actor mode, where he's essentially interchangeable with Kevin Kline.
Working from a script adapted from the Armistead (Tales Of The City) Maupin novel, Williams plays Gabriel Noone, a writer who reads stories on public radio. While he's going through a difficult period with his lover (Bobby Cannavale), his publisher (Joe Morton) puts him in telephone contact with the young writer (Rory Culkin) of a book that documents his horrifying abuse at the hands of his parents and others.
One day, the similarity between the kid's voice and Gabriel's mother's (Toni Collette) is pointed out to him, and he begins to suspect that the boy doesn't actually exist.
For those who might note as I did when I saw the trailer parallels with the famous J. T. LeRoy literary hoax, Maupin's novel was written well before those events. The book is apparently based on events in Maupin's life.
The curious aspect of the film is that director Patrick Stettner (The Business Of Strangers) keeps treating it as a thriller rather than as a psychological puzzler. The protagonist's life is never in any danger, even if he thinks it is, so when Stettner starts using the machinery of the thriller, it isn't just the floorboards that are creaking.
It's worth seeing for the performances, particularly Williams's and Collette's, and I'm always happy to see Sandra Oh in anything. And for Lisa Rinzler's atmospheric cinematography.
On the other hand, composer Peter Nashel delivers one of those tinkly repetitive piano scores, like Philip Glass without the courage of his convictions. It's the sort of score that settles on Sundance movies and is supposed to signify high seriousness.